Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

There is a lot of interest now days in the history of what were once called Public Asylums and those who had the misfortune to end up in them.
In this beautifully written novel we traverse Mental Health Issues through two very different people; 17 year old Izzy Stone whose mother shot her father during what was described as a bout of insanity but turns out to have been something quite different and Clara Cartwright, 18 years old in 1929, the daughter of well too do social snobs, whose insanity is to fall in love with someone whose rank is lower than that of her parents.
Their story becomes entangled when Izzy's foster parents enlist her help when they are employed to catalogue items from a long abandoned State Asylum as part of their Museum employment, a pile of unopened letters leads down a path that Izzy could not have imagined.
Facing her own issues, Izzy is intrigued by the letters contents and is determined to track down the truth which leads her on her own journey to understand her own mother and her motives for murder.
This is a very well written and researched book which paints a vivid portrait of an era long gone by, it's social mores and customs and it's ways of dealing with those who refuse to conform, I would imagine that anyone who had visited one of these Asylums would instantly recognise it, equally Izzy's time and place is well drawn and the narrative is well voiced, nothing is left to chance, there is a reason why each setting and character is there and they all play their part.
This book will get you thinking especially about injustice and why society has and does behave as it sees fit. There is no middle ground with the characters, you either like them or you don't, but you won't quickly forget some of them. And there less than humane behaviour towards others. In our modern age it is easy to forget that women had no money or power apart from their parents/husband, how unempowered we really were.
This is also a book of healing, love and reconciliation and the author does a great job without becoming mawkish. You may shed some tears but you will come away from Izzy and Clara's journey with a new awareness of the battles some faced and some continue to face.
Available via the Library System and on Special Order.

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